Cuando las olas con suavidad suspiran
cuando los rayos del sol mueren;
cuando las sombras de la noche caen
Campanas de las tarde llaman,
pienso en ti!
pienso en ti!
When the waves softly sigh,
When the sunbeams die,
When the night shadows fall,
Evening bells call,
I think of thee!
I think of thee!
— Charles Ives, translation by Alba Potes
Calma mi niño, duérmete
tú y yo cantaremos suavemente
que nada enturbie tu sueño
Lento el verano se está yendo
los vientos del otoño cantan
que nada enturbie tu sueño
los brillos de los sauces tiemblan
fluye el río en calma y así
fluirá el amor siempre.
Hush thee, dear child, to slumbers
We will sing softest numbers
Naught thy sleeping encumbers
Summer is slowly dying
Autumnal winds are sighing
faded leaflets are flying
Brightly the willows quiver
Peacefully flows the river
So shall love flow forever.
— Augusta Ives, translation by Alba Potes
"The alert guitarist." – Paul Griffiths, New York Times
I try to be on the alert for compelling musical premises, beautifully executed. After over three decades of working with composers in the trenches, I find myself alert to the bigger picture; I see musical problems relating to bigger problems—industrialization and its stultifying business models.
My fingers on the guitar feel for the essence of each composer, like taking in the lines of an interesting or beautiful face. My fingers discover the surprising and brilliant ways the composers first make things work and then work up to something extraordinary. They do things differently than I would. They do things I would not do. My fingers explore, discover, and celebrate the “not me.”
While I was born and mentored into late and ripe modernism, I can hardly be called a modernist. Is there a name for the music here? Without a name, nothing can be replicated ad nauseam to serve a business model. Lacking a name helps keep the composers sane. It’s only bad for marketing. I’m on the alert for a more sustainable creative environment that resists the tyrannies of business models.
To quote Wendell Berry from Life Is a Miracle: Industrial business models “aspire to big answers that will make headlines, money, and promotions…for answers that are uniform and universal—the same styles, explanations, routines, tools, methods, models, beliefs, amusements, etc., for everybody everywhere.” Musical entrenchment and other discontents relate directly to the problems of propriety and sustainability that Wendell Berry brings to our attention.
20th-Century composers developed an unwholesome appetite for revolutions. For example, after some resistance, I came to have great respect for the minimalist pioneers. Their revolution was necessary and laudable, but it became industrialized. Revolutions can become a cult of the large. They can stoke our appetite for grandiosity, creating a dynamic in which, if you don’t create a revolution, you’re irrelevant. Doesn’t the moment call for another orientation no less ambitious—Haydnesque craftsmanship?
I have assembled 12 composers here, establishing a force for the small, joining Wendell Berry and his Locovores. We’re with John Dewey and his Pragmatists, who, over 100 years ago, called for creative forces to serve a specific moment, then disappear.
There is a time and place for everything, including revolution. What is a century of musical revolutions without integration?
This collection makes me absolutely joyous. It honors a great diversity of musical assets that had previously been sequestered into revolutionary camps. I am inviting you to join me in the release of those assets for purposes beyond revolution. Music is a response to our desires. It can keep us whole.
I am a guitarist/composer working with a group of ambitious, hard-working composers. We are pushing and pulling one another in various ways that further creativity. We are at peace with our considerable diversity of creative frameworks, even when those can be at odds with one another. We’re on the move. We don’t stay in one place.
We want for nothing now, except you. — William Anderson, April 7, 2021
Doria Pamphili (2007/2015)
Harold Meltzer and I traveled all over the US with Cygnus (my band) and Sequitur (Harold’s band). We hung out in the Berkshires, where he had me playing his incidental music for Shakespeare at Edith Wharton’s house. In 2012, I was the onstage musician for his ballet, Mangrove, a collaboration with choreographer Josée Garant and her company, Josée Garant Dance, at the Colony Theater in Miami.
Please check out Meltzer’s Brion, commissioned by the Barlow Foundation for Cygnus. It’s on the Naxos label. Cygnus’s recording of Brion was one of Anthony Tommasini’s New York Times 2010 best-of-the-year selections; it was the centerpiece of Meltzer’s 2012 Library of Congress retrospective, and it was a Pulitzer finalist. I am grateful to Tara Helen O’Connor for successfully advocating for a performance of “Brion” with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 2016.
I have played Doria Pamphili all over the world. The title refers to an estate with extensive gardens outside of Rome. Meltzer’s music holds impressions of Italy; he was a 2005 Rome Prize winner. The piece evolved like one of Matisse’s serial paintings. The version I played in Istanbul in 2013 was quite different from this final version.
Doria Pamphili develops seamlessly, loops back on itself. The opening theme appears two more times at the end, three times all told. Call the second appearance a false recap. It is oddly twisted, the D natural on the guitar’s open fourth string working against the D# in the tune. It’s a gentle moment. It’s not really sad, not tormented. Perhaps we might say it is deeply equivocal? Details in the heart of the work are arranged just so, in order to make this moment believable.
I love Meltzer’s music for his embrace of minimalist gestures and textures, repurposed for his own fascinating musical ends.
Genius Loci (2008)
Frank Brickle and I have hacked through the thickets together for over thirty years. He was my composition teacher in the 1990s. He started writing for me and for Cygnus in the late 1980s. He was more than a decade ahead of Milton Babbitt (his teacher) in reintegrating consonance—redeploying sweet pretty harmonies that were forbidden, for a time, in respectable composer circles. Check out his 21st-century masterpieces Farai un vers and The Creation, A Towneley Mystery Play, on Brickle’s Furious Artisans CD, Ab nou cor. Brickle’s work offended modernist purists in a new and original way, helping to break the minimalists’ monopoly there.
“Genius Loci” means, “the spirit of the place.” Brickle’s sweet, simple tune uses the most basic 7-note scale that we learn to sing in grade school. The musical landscape is inflected in various ways. When we look at a landscape, we do not see the features with equal intensity; there is the moon effect, for example—things near the horizon get amplified by the brain. In music this can be masterfully controlled. I think of this as a minimalist study of such effects.
Throughout, a harmonic center holds. There’s a mantra Brickle passed on to me from composer J. K. Randall: don’t erase! A harmony has to get its teeth into you.
Silent Moon (1992)
Olga Gorelli (1920–2006) gave house concerts in Pennington, New Jersey. They were popular and well attended. Brickle was often in the audience. Composer Robert Pollock, when he was running the Composers Guild of New Jersey, engaged players to perform on Gorelli’s home stage. The Anderson-Fader Duo (the Cygnus guitarists) performed there in the 1990s. I got to know Olga, and I fell in love with her little guitar duos. Silent Moon is a melodic scansion of a famous poem by Giacomo Leopardi—a song without words, but we are directed toward the words by the title.
Gorelli studied with Hindemith, Scalera, Menotti, Milhaud, and Quincy Porter! She loved to talk about her teachers. She was fascinated by them and taught us to be very curious and no less fascinated. Notice that these are mostly displaced Europeans, just as she was; her family immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1937. They all laid down roots here, hoping for something to sprout. Up sprang Olga Gorelli’s music.
She explained that her friends encouraged her to write music that was more “tonal.” For me, her music was never too “atonal.” That she mentioned that conversation suggests that she was negotiating dissonance-consonance and simplicity-complexity.
Many forces act on the composer. Olga’s friends asked for something that didn't confuse them; confusion is off-putting. She pushed against the comfort level of her circle. A work becomes ever so much more poignant when we feel for its contention with what it is not, when we feel its resistances. Everything we do is a response to myriad forces. In short, being what we are has very much to do with what we're not; what we're not doesn’t hide meekly in what we are, but is beautifully present there, richly entangled.
Cygnus and I commissioned a lot of music from Jonathan Dawe, including Dawe’s first fractal Baroque opera, Prometheus, produced by Works & Process at the Guggenheim, with thanks to Mary Cronson and her friend Charles Wuorinen.
What is “fractal Baroque”? All we need to know is that it’s a transformational process. Wuorinen introduced me and Dawe to Benoit Mandelbrot, who pioneered fractal geometry. Dawe and Wuorinen pioneered musical applications—ways to develop tunes and harmonies. Dawe likes to say that his musical materials blossom through his fractal transformations.
Dawe wrote Braggadocio for a picaresque program I did with my wife, pianist and harpsichordist Joan Forsyth. A picaro is a defiant rascal. The picaresque novel was in full flower in the Baroque period, roughly 1600 to 1750. “Baroque” got its name from a twisted pearl, and the picaro is a bit crooked. Don Quixote is a special and notable picaro. Bugs Bunny is a latter-day avatar, a loveable rogue. Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon is a picaresque novel made into cinema. Finally, the guitar is a picaro. It is not quite a legitimate member of the family of classical Western instruments.
In Braggadocio, Dawe is a font of rambunctious antics, ruses, seductions, deceptions. While the picaro—the rogue—is rarely sincere, we might make a thought experiment. What if the loveable rogue had a moment of introspection? Some moody peering into the eyes of a skull, off-camera? There is a moment that seems sincere (@2:55), but it is laughed off with a guitaristic finger in the eye—a flamboyant flamenco strum with a high A on top (@3:22).
Dawe makes sharp turns in very sneaky ways. It’s just amazing how he can time-warp four centuries ahead of Baroque composer Scarlatti in just a few beats. The Baroque was already picaresque; Dawe enlarges the purview of the picaresque by enfolding postwar musical developments and quite a bit of the rich chaos of late capitalism.
Please check out Mr. Dawe’s Furious Artisans CDs, including A Noise Did Rise.
Dr. Greenbaum’s Coranto (2018)
The minuet was a Baroque court dance. As music grew less aristocratic and more bourgeois, the minuet developed an increasing sense of humor. In sonata forms, the minuet is eventually replaced by a scherzo, “scherzo” meaning “joke” in Italian. Dr. Greenbaum’s Coranto is a Seinfeldian scherzo.
A coranto was also a Baroque court dance. The music is picaresque and, moreover, Shandean—in the spirit of Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, a novel about nothing, written 230 years before Seinfeld’s sitcom about nothing. Tristram Shandy’s plot is continually sidetracked with digressions and finally, there is no plot, but there are fascinating characters, people of leisure, their energies applied not toward problems of physical survival, rather, with how to survive until teatime.
Greenbaum’s counterpoint masterfully navigates phrases on the bon mot scale; Seinfeldian badinage. There is a brilliant display of gymnastics, syntactic and instrumental—fingers dancing on the strings, daring leaps, wild rhythms, and deft rhetorical flourishes.
Greenbaum is capable of grandeur and sublimity. Please check out his Furious Artisans CD, Nameless. On that disc is a setting for soprano and instruments of a nature poem by Emerson. The song is entitled, Wild Rose, Lily, Dry Vanilla. In the poem, nature acts on us until we form a stance, a vantage point for a perception. Greenbaum’s music performs the same function. Winds toss you around, slap you in the face, hurl debris at you. When the winds subside, you might find that those winds prepared you to see.
Hail Wind (1976)
David Loeb originally conceived this piece for the biwa, a Japanese lute, but guitarists have played it for years. I’ve been endlessly fascinated with Loeb’s music. Modernists avoid creative masks. Yeats, Loeb, and Bob Dylan have no fear of them, but they were taboo for modernists. The International Style reigned from roughly 1955 into the 1990s. I was very involved in its late phase. Adherents valued absolute self-reliance. Each work created its own world.
David Loeb was at odds with this paradigm. He wrote: “Authoritative persons and colleagues frequently admonished the few of us who stubbornly rejected the true faith, predicting marginalization and total obscurity as our fates.” I concur; I bear witness to this stranding of David Loeb’s powerful creative assets.
I am likely not the only one to feel confusion about these conflicting values. Here, I celebrate Loeb and others who break taboos. I willfully embrace their brave defiance, without rejecting the modernists; note—the modernists got a taste of this crisis when the minimalists left them stranded.
For his entire adult life, Loeb hopped between New York City and Kyoto, building a unique international musical life. His music holds the scents and backstories of the Japanese instruments he came to know and love. He also finds a strong connection between Japanese traditional instruments and ancient Western instruments. Loeb channels these instruments. Here he conjures idioms from Japanese musical traditions and Japanese moods. For example, the bleak opening of Hail Wind has a rough-hewn quality. The lutes set a fateful, inexorable pace. Toward what? Contending with what elements? Forces of nature, human and otherwise.
Sheer Pluck is a guitar orchestra that brings together guitarists from all over the NYC metro area. The group has been at the heart of many sold-out concerts at Weill Hall.
I am collaborating with Furious Artisans Records to re-release a CD of Loeb’s music, with some of his masterpieces including, “Fantasy on a Rondo of Dufay.”
Variations on Long Ago and Far Away (1993) and Hexadactyl (2002)
These pieces are paired here because they play the same sport.
Charles Wuorinen (1938–2020) was a key exemplar of “uptown” Manhattan high modernism. He was loved and reviled. I am one of his great number of passionate fans. His work is the subject of doctoral dissertations. In 1962, Wuorinen was the youngest composer to win the Pulitzer Prize.
When Charles Wuorinen was beginning to think about the little guitar solo that he would write for me, he asked to hear some of my music. I shared with him my variations on Jerome Kern’s Long Ago and Far Away. I was delighted to find that Hexadactyl adopts an operating principle from my variations.
Après Vous (2003)
Robert Morris’s Après Vous was written for me in 2003. It starts to move in a new direction—there is a French mood in the opening, a light, gentle quality. Robert Morris explains: “The opening was designed to sound a little like a Sarabande or Pavan theme, something that would be subject to variations in the late Renaissance or early Baroque periods.”
The title also alludes to the canonic techniques employed throughout. Robert Morris was a bold explorer of many of the 20th century’s most daring innovations in compositional techniques. He took a new direction in this work by exploring an ancient compositional technique—canons. This is Morris’s first of a series of explorations and experiments with canonic devices. The canons are decorated or freely elaborated, sometimes submerged, under the radar.
Laura Schwendinger and I met in Washington DC, through our friend and mentor Dina Koston, the codirector, with Leon Fleisher, of The Theater Chamber Players. Dina Koston played a role in the creation of Schwendinger’s Footfalls. In 2007, Dina sent me a beautiful hardbound volume of Beckett plays, threatening to write a piece for Cygnus based on Ohio Impromptu. I encouraged her. It was her last work. When the Library of Congress presented a tribute to Koston in 2012, the play was paired with Koston’s musical response. We called it Sounding Beckett and took the concept to New York in the fall. Joy Zinoman directed three of Beckett’s haunting and oddly musical ghost plays, each followed by a work for Cygnus written in response to the play. Abstract music and abstract theater found an audience together. The show ran for two weeks and was sold out every night.
Schwendinger is the only composer on this album who embraces noise—unpitched sounds, made from the traditional instruments, repurposed. In Central Europe today, such is a must—an absolute value. As a response to Beckett’s Footfalls, it is a perfect match of material and poetic intent—perfect casting. The noise drama gives birth to an intense pitch drama that reminds us of the scary situation of the daughter in the Beckett play. Following this pitch drama, the noise music returns remade, reforged. Also like the Beckett play, there are fleeting moments of lyricism, a cathartic break.
Footfalls expresses the fundamental mystery of the Beckett play through the score. The play is enigmatic. A woman is pacing, grappling with her life and her problematic mother, whose presence in the play is ghostly. The instruments start by stroking and blowing as lightly as air, soon falling into a “footstep” ostinato, pacing through the score, which finally leads to melodically potent lines.
“Cuando las olas con suavidad suspiran” and “Calma Mi Niño,” from the song cycle Horizontes, came about through a devilish scheme that Alba Potes and I cooked up together. This is a live recording from the premiere at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, in the West Village of Manhattan, on May 30, 2017. The concert was a production of Las Americas en Concierto, founded by Alba Potes. I asked Alba to take some poetry by Charles Ives and his Aunt Augusta, translate it into Spanish, and set it for Vox n Plux—vocalist Elizabeth Farnum and the Cygnus guitarists. We would thereby sow New England Transcendentalism in the Andes while bringing the Colombian tiple to New England.
You can decide. Was this an honest barter or was it free trade as a Trojan horse? Perhaps only time will tell. Here, Oren Fader is playing a classical guitar and I play the amazing tiple, a 12-string guitar with four courses.
The piquant sound of the Colombian tiple is the only clear folk element in the work. Does her vocal writing evoke anything Andean? Perhaps her New York listeners will answer this question differently than her Colombian listeners.
The Song (1993)
Composer Andrzej Dziadek and his wife Magdalene, a musicologist, now divide their days between Krakow and Gdansk. We toured together in Silesia in the 1990s. It was a pleasure to be reunited in 2018 at the Nove Fale Festiwal Muzyki Współczesna in Gdansk. Dziadek studied at the Vienna University of Music with Francis Burt. I now realize what a great privilege it is to have their perspective—watchful of Vienna and Berlin, but not uncritical. Polish music today is blessedly immune to those aesthetic values made absolute that skew the game west of the Elbe.
Andrzej Dziadek’s guitar solo feels stripped to utter essentials. I have come to find its simplicity breathtaking. “A Song” sets us up for brilliant harmonic/melodic surprises. Those always require deft and artful misdirection. It defies the pace of late capitalism; it is leisurely and ruminative.
Jacob ter Veldhuis, now known as JacobTV, wrote this for me while we were touring Holland together in the early 1990s. In Amsterdam, we ran into American expats explaining how they got the hell out when Reagan was elected. Oil wells in Iraq were burning out of control. On one of the very last days of that tour, February 26, 1993, the World Trade Center was attacked for the first time. Jacob felt things moving in a very bad direction, and he was right. That was when he was forming the creative stance that would take him around the world.
Jacob would soon develop an international reputation for the cutting social commentary in his boombox music. A three-day JacobTV festival took place at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC in 2007. Americans got a chance to see a European responding to the American spectacle—our hunger games—pulling no punches. His reality opera The News is constantly updated; various editions have been performed in Chicago, Rome, Amsterdam, Hamburg, and New York.
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